Anna Lappe, Author and Food Activist

by Rich Awn

Discussed: Disconnect/Phobia of Nature, Community Supported Agriculture, Federal Trade Commission, Industry Supported Lies, Center for Global Food Issues, Chemical Farming, Monsanto, Against the Grain, Permaculture and Ancient Agriculture

There are a few voices that speak with resonant clarity through the noise of the “too much information generation.”  They are the conscientious mavericks whose passion and diligence in finding the truth of things have elevated them beyond mere mortal thoughtless drones but as hyper-human change makers, or as we like to call them, superheroes.

One such individual is Anna Lappe, co-autohor of Grub and Hope’s Edge, founding principal for the Small Planet Institute and the Small Planet Fund.  Her literary work brandishes a samurai blade in the face of the chemically tainted, spurious battle against the evils of the commercial agriculture and biotech industries.  Her ambitious work with the Small Planet Institute prods and ignites the basic human tendency toward social mimicry by generating a broad spectrum of “entry points” through media to understand, accept, and impart democratic social change.

See below for more photos from the MINI Space Rooftop: Sustainability Roundtable Discussion:

Q: First I wanna talk about living in an urban environment and how there’s a disconnect with nature and even a phobia, in some cases, with school children.  How do you think that we should be dealing with that?

A: That’s a very good question and one I’ve thought a lot about as a New Yorker for the past 10 years, one of the things that I always remind myself is that eating food, which we have to do on a daily basis, is our most direct connection to nature and someone who lives in a city, as you said, it’s not so often that we necessarily get our feet on dirt that we are consuming nature through the food that we eat.  Of course, many times for many of us, the food that we eat is many steps removed from nature but the closer we can get to connecting to food that is in it’s most whole, natural form is one of the best ways I think to connect to the environment and to do that through whole foods and through seasonal foods is a really powerful way to do that.

Q: You think Community Supported Agriculture programs are also a good way?

A: Absolutely.  So here in New York City, Community Supported Agriculture farms are completely taking off.  The concept behind a CSA farm, as they’re called, is this really beautiful idea that those of us who aren’t farmers but who are eaters and want to support farms can actually become a shareholder in a farm and give that farmer the money that they need up front to farm the way we want them to farm without chemicals and creating real food for us and then throughout the harvest season, get food from that farm, and there are now dozens of CSA farm communities here in New York City.  A really fabulous organization called Just Food is spearheading it here, but there are actually now more than 1000 CSA farms across the country and it is a really powerful way to connect to great food and to support farmers.

Q: What’s up with Greenwashing in food advertising?  Does America have a food culture, number one, and how can we break from our omniverous habits?

A: Well, Greenwashing I think is becoming more and more prominent across all industries including food as companies realize that more of us care, that we’re freaking out about climate change, that we’re worried about the environment and so it’s really important in that context that we become really savvy consumers of media messages about Greenwashing and to really be able to tell the real deal from just the Green hype and there are all kinds of ways we can do that.  We can also do things like speak up to the Federal Trade Commission that’s determining what they call “The Green Guides” in other words, the “rules” that they set about what a company can say and can’t say and ask them to set really strict standards so that we are protected from Greenwashing as consumers.

Q: Can we call them or email them?  How do we get in touch with the FTC?

A: The FTC, part of government that you might not think too much about, but the Federal Trade Commission is what protects us consumers from fraud of all kinds and they also set their Green Guides as their policies for what companies can say about their environmental friendliness and increasingly there are lots of companies that are making environmental claims whether their carbon neutral or carbon negative even, I’ve seen, or whether they are eco friendly or all natural.  These are vague claims that have very little meaning so the FTC is trying to determine how do we actually be more specific about that.  Increasingly, the food industry, as they come under fire for being such an important contributor to climate crisis, I see the food industry increasingly coming out with Green messages about their products.

Q: Are the FTC regulations different from USDA?

A: Yes, totally separate.  In the FTC’s Green Guides regulations I should specify, they’re actually not laws in the same way that the USDA Organic Standard is a certifiable standard that you have to follow strict rules around and you can get sued if you go outside of those certification standards where as the Green Guides are just guidelines.  I think the other great thing that we can look for when it comes to food that’s good for the environment is to look for the USDA organic certification; that’s a verifiable claim, there are standards behind it and it’s something we can trust.

Q: You brought up the IPCC and “scientific” organizations funded by commercial agriculture.  Who can we trust?

A: I, as someone who is constantly on the search for the truth, and I think that the number one thing that I do whenever I read any claim or even read people quoted in the newspapers is go behind the name of the organization to really look at who’s funding that organization and so, there are a lot of groups, really front groups, that are funded by the chemical industry for instance but have very neutral sounding names that to you and I might not raise an eyebrow.  So for instance, the Center for Global Food Issues, have you ever heard of it?

Q: No.

A: What is the Center for Global Food issues?

Q: Probably some amazing altruistic .org that I should be contributing to.

A: So have you ever heard of DOW, Dupont, Sargento, Monsanto…?

Q: Those are the top five worst polluters in the world, yes.

A: So the Center for Global Food Issues, is a project of the Hudson Institute and the Hudson Institute is funded in part by some of those companies that I just mentioned.  We can go to sources, I love resources like, is a great website.  You can actually go to that website and put the name in of one of these organizations that you read about and find out, is it a altruistic organization that’s created to get to the truth behind big issues or might there be another alternative agenda.

Q: How evil is Monsanto?

A: Hmm… well, let’s see.  Seeing as Monsanto has a habit of suing people who speak negatively about them, I don’t know if I want to answer that question on record.  In fact, Monsanto affected me very directly, affected my family very directly, my father before he passed away had written for his last book had written a book called Against the Grain that was a scientific evaluation of the claims by Monsanto about whether or not their crops actually yeilded more food, you know that’s one of the claims we hear from the biotech industry, and his book raised some serious questions about the Monsanto promise and their technology.  It was actually at his publisher ready to go to print when his publisher received a 7 page letter from Monsanto lawyers saying, we just wanna let you know, if you publish this book, we might come after you and at the time his publisher did not have an insurance policy his publisher got very worried about having to battle with such a large company like Monsanto who has been successful in suing many farmers and journalists and they pulled the book.  Ultimately my father was able to find a Maine-based publisher called Common Courage Press. I’ve always thought his book had a very different feel to it when it was published by this more left-leaning press than it would’ve been had it had been published by a New York City mainstream textbook publishing house, and that was just my own family’s experience of what this company is doing in terms of stifiling real debate and the fact that they have been so aggressive in going after scientists and journalists who truly just want to engage the public in debate to me, is some of the most profound evidence that this company is not interested in really letting the truth out not interested in really having the public know all the facts and make a decision based on facts.

Q: A topic that I’m super interested in is sustainable agriculture, namely Permaculture, and I wanted to get your thoughts on Permaculture and the return to ancient agricultural practices and do you see this as a trend?  Can we expect to see more of this in the US and worldwide?

A: There’s been this very strategic and very smart way in which those companies that have been promoting chemical agriculture have painted anything other than technology defined as using chemicals, technology defined as using genetically engineered crops that have been created in a laboratory, that anything other than that is backward that if we want to support anything other than that, that we’re Luddites or that we don’t care about progress.  It’s been a real battle that many people have been fighting now for decades to actually reframe the story and to show people that tapping into natural cycles of fertility and natural cycles of abundance and tapping into much of that ancient wisdom about how we fed our selves for centuries and centuries before all these chemicals came around that by tapping into that wisdom is not going backward it’s actually taking us into the future. I just heard Michael Pollen the journalist say that it’s “post Industrial farming,” and as I like to say it’s really about tapping into the best of ancient wisdom with the best of what we know about science and what we’re discovering is that we can actually take this form of farming even farther than we ever knew was possible in the sense that we’re seeing higher yields than we ever thought was possible through getting off of the chemical treadmill there’s been all kinds of new studies coming out that show that organic farming is a really powerful way to sequester carbon in the soil so this false tradeoff between forests and farms is one that we can shatter that idea by showing that farms can be this important way for us to sequester carbon.  There are all kinds of ways in which these traditional methods actually have a place in our modern world even more so than any of us could ever believe.

Photo by rich_awn.

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